by Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS, RSCC*D and Dr. Georgia Giblin, PhD
Coaching Podcast July 2022
Learn about the emerging field of biomechanics in professional baseball from Georgia Giblin, the Director of Performance Science for the Detroit Tiger...
Learn about the emerging field of biomechanics in professional baseball from Georgia Giblin, the Director of Performance Science for the Detroit Tigers Major League Baseball (MLB) team. Giblin shares her professional journey with NSCA Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager, Eric McMahon, from working with Olympic athletes in Australia to educating coaches on emerging technology tools within MLB. This episode features discussion on the recent growth of athletic performance departments, the current state of sport science in the United States, and the helpful role of strength and conditioning coaches in supporting sport science initiatives. Connect with Georgia on Twitter: @GeorgiaGiblin| Find Eric on Instagram: @ericmcmahoncscs or Twitter: @ericmcmahoncscs
Learn about the emerging field of biomechanics in professional baseball from Georgia Giblin, the Director of Performance Science for the Detroit Tigers Major League Baseball (MLB) team. Giblin shares her professional journey with NSCA Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager, Eric McMahon, from working with Olympic athletes in Australia to educating coaches on emerging technology tools within MLB. This episode features discussion on the recent growth of athletic performance departments, the current state of sport science in the United States, and the helpful role of strength and conditioning coaches in supporting sport science initiatives.
“That, for me, was probably the most influential kind of part in my career really being embedded within biomechanics and sport science within the Australian Institute of Sport.” 2:15
“Some of them might have background in statistics. Some of them might have a strength training background that have now come into coaching. And I think that's really great for the game that we have this diversity of coaches and people within the game with different backgrounds.” 27:46
“But my take on it would be as a young practitioner coming into the field or if you're starting an internship with the team or something, take the temperature of the room first. So sit back, listen, learn, be open minded, and just absorb it all in before you start to try and make any moves.” 29:50
[00:00:04.31] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast, season 6, episode 7.
[00:00:10.11] You take the temperature of the room first. So sit back, listen, learn, be open minded, and just absorb it all in before you start to try and make any moves.
[00:00:26.88] This is the NSCA's Coaching Podcast where we talk to strength and conditioning coaches about what you really need to know, but probably didn't learn in school. There's strength and conditioning, and then there's everything else.
[00:00:37.65] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast. I'm Eric McMahon. Today we're joined by Georgia Giblin, the Director of Performance Science for the Detroit Tigers and Major League Baseball. Georgia, welcome.
[00:00:50.46] Thanks for having me, Eric.
[00:00:52.32] Yeah. So we ran into each other an event pretty recently and got to talking about sports science and just the cool role you have with the Detroit Tigers. So I just want to give you a chance to tell your story in the field and how you got to where you're at today.
[00:01:10.53] Yeah, absolutely. So I'm, obviously, from Australia. So I started out, obviously, in Australia, did my undergraduate degree in exercise and sport science at Deakin University in Melbourne. During that time, I actually undertook a study abroad program in Canada, and that's actually where I found my love of biomechanics. I had a class over there and really loved it.
[00:01:38.29] So when I got back to Australia, I started doing an honors in biomechanics. So our system's probably slightly different to the way it works in the US. So after my undergraduate degree, it's kind of a shortened master's, I would say. So it's a year long honors project. You pick a topic, you research it, write a little thesis on it.
[00:02:01.01] So I did that in some field hockey biomechanics research. Loved that. Decided biomechanics was the way for me. So after that, I spent a year as a intern, or a postgraduate scholar, at the AIS in Canberra in their biomechanics unit there. So that, for me, was probably the most influential kind of part in my career really being embedded within biomechanics and sport science within the Australian Institute of Sport.
[00:02:31.39] So got to work across a few different sports there, and that was fantastic. After that, through networks and people that I'd made relationships through with the AIS, I started my PhD. So I completed that at Victoria University in Melbourne. And I did that in partnership with Tennis Australia. And so I think one of the neat things that we have in Australia is these kind of industry-based PhDs.
[00:02:59.62] So I was able to work hand-in-hand with the coaches and the players at Tennis Australia to answer some of these bigger, burning questions that they had. So I had the research component, but also was able to apply my trade as a sports scientist on a daily basis with those coaches and athletes. So that set me up really nicely to work in elite sport, I think. And then from there, I spent four years at the Queensland Academy of Sport in Brisbane. So as a biomechanics, supporting athletes that were either qualified or hoping to qualify for the Olympics.
[00:03:40.79] So I worked across track and field, archery, softball, water polo, quite a number of sports there for four years. And then ended up in the US. So the Tigers, obviously, trying to get into sports science and they did so through a consulting agreement with the University of Michigan.
[00:04:04.79] So I actually started as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan working with the Tigers consulting with the Tigers about sports science biomechanics, how best to utilize sports science in baseball. So I did that for a year. And then transitioned over full time to the Tigers, which is the position I have now as the Director of Performance Science.
[00:04:28.69] It's really interesting. And I can think back to some early minor league days when probably the first time I ever saw a pitching lab with the-- it looks like a video game with the sensors all over the pitcher's body. And technology's come quite a long way from those early days. I want to ask you how has this transition that you're talking about been received at the Major League level, at the minor league level, with the athletes that you're working with and with the coaches that you work with?
[00:05:05.95] Yeah. I think that's an interesting question because it's certainly been a transition, and baseball is in this period of time right now where technology is-- the pace at which it's being adopted is just insane. And it is. It's challenging to keep up for someone like myself that has kind of that background. So I can only imagine how hard it is for some of the coaches and the players that have never been exposed to it.
[00:05:33.35] But I do think the transition has been quite good. I think so long as the technology is providing value and, obviously, what you spoke about there some of the pitching labs and the motion capture, I think provides immense value to the players and the coaches. Then it's typically received quite well. Obviously, depends a lot on how you present that technology and information. And I think that's probably one of the key points for the coaches is we have to upskill and educate them as well.
[00:06:12.00] So I can't expect-- I've got a PhD in biomechanics. I understand all those dots and things that you're talking about. They've probably never seen that before. They don't know what it means. So, for me, being able to take that very scientific side of it and translate it into a more digestible format for the coaches, I think goes a long way.
[00:06:33.41] From the player side of things, the players these days I think in college is getting exposed to some of this. So it's a little bit easier transition for them. So some of those big schools, they have pitching labs themselves. And so I think a lot of the kids that come out of college these days, they come in and they say, hey, where's my Blast sensor. They know the information.
[00:06:59.30] They're thirsty for it. Obviously, that's a different scenario for some of the players coming out of our Dominican Academy. So, for them, we put an emphasis on trying to educate them down in the Dominican with some of the technology that we use in the states, so that when they come to the states, it's not another one of those things that's mind blowing for them.
[00:07:24.81] They're aware of it. They know what it means. We introduce it to them down there. So that transition is a little bit easier, I think, for them because they've got a big enough transition as it is with moving from the Dominican to Florida without everything else thrown on top of them.
[00:07:42.28] It's a really great point, one about players craving more information today than maybe past generations and just the culture of the game that we're in today. And I liked how you touched on just the onboarding of new technology within your program within your system. And especially thinking about players coming out of Latin America, where we typically think and know that the resources maybe aren't the same as what we have here in the US. And I do want to ask you about that.
[00:08:14.74] But before we get too far in, what's your thoughts on working in baseball? This may be a sport that you didn't always aspire towards or think you'd be working with. How's your experience been?
[00:08:29.46] It's crazy. I'll say that. When I first started in baseball, I had some really good people around me in the form of our minor league strength and conditioning coordinator at the time and our minor league athletic training coordinator. And both of them had said to me, whatever you've learnt in your Olympic sports and whatever, throw it out the window. It doesn't apply in baseball.
[00:08:56.22] I was, like, surely that can't be true. But it's true for a lot of things. The scheduling is crazy. The fact that they play so many games in a short period. The number of plays and teams is crazy.
[00:09:13.05] And so it's, yeah, it's been an interesting experience, that's for sure. I mean, I think it's fantastic. I love it. It's got its own set of challenges. And like you mentioned, it probably wasn't one of the sports that I was targeting.
[00:09:29.52] I got a taste of softball while we had our Australian team preparing for Tokyo and really enjoyed that. But that was one national team, and you're dealing with just a small handful of players and one coaching group. And it was a lot easier as opposed to scaling things to an organization where you've got multiple teams within the country, but also within the Dominican as well and players everywhere. And it's been a challenge from that perspective.
[00:10:02.23] But I also think it's a really exciting time to be in baseball because, like we mentioned earlier, the technology aspect of it is growing. And, in particular for me, selfishly, the biomechanics aspect of it is growing. And I think, with the advent of motion capture and Hawk-Eye and marker-less motion capture in the game, that's exciting for me because it's just lots of information to digest.
[00:10:26.74] So we have a lot of young strength coaches listening to this podcast or professionals just getting into the field at different levels. Speak to biomechanics a little bit and just some of the technologies that are available throughout the industry and just how one might go about pursuing that knowledge once they're getting their foot in the door professionally.
[00:10:50.97] Yeah. So I guess in its simplest form, biomechanics is the application of physics to human movement. And so within baseball, in particular, at the moment there's accelerometer or sensors that you might have seen out on social media that look at how efficiently a player moves, so how quickly certain body parts rotate compared to other parts. So that's one of the key pieces of technology, I think, in baseball right now and looking at the kinematic sequence to how that player moves and how they transfer energy up the kinematic chain. And then the other big piece I think at the moment is motion capture.
[00:11:36.93] So you can have two types of motion capture. The first being marker-based motion capture, which you might have seen with those little reflective dots that get placed all over the joints. That's how they make video games as well. And then the second option is marker-less motion capture, which is your AI video camera-based system where they create the skeleton without the markers. And so both of those systems give you very similar information, information about joint positions.
[00:12:12.47] So maybe where your knee flexion is when you're landing through a pitch, for example. And so we can look at is that front leg stable. They may be collapsing a little bit, losing a little bit of energy. And so then, obviously, I think for the young practitioners coming into the field, there's a lot of information, and it's probably very hard to summarize it and digest it. But I guess there is technology that will be available to them to help do they're aspect of the job.
[00:12:51.98] So whether it's perhaps using this marker-less motion capture in a screening. So, typically, maybe the strength coaches are responsible for an FMS type of screen. Potentially you could use a marker-less based motion capture to do that for you. And you could actually measure some of the outcomes that might be occurring in this screening, if that makes sense.
[00:13:17.17] Yeah. No, that's actually a really great point. And one thing I think back is vertical jump testing is really common across all strength and conditioning programs. We've come a long way from jumping with a piece of chalk against the wall to a vertex to a jump mat to a force play. And you can use the technology in a lot of different ways to enhance areas of your program, which maybe you already think are pretty well developed.
[00:13:42.79] And so that's a really great point there. I want to ask you about in professional baseball you talked about the influx of all these technologies and organizing that for your players. Talk about the onboarding process once players get to the US from the Dominican or at your Florida complex and up through the affiliate levels. That's where I think it's really interesting where it's sometimes really difficult to apply a lot of different technologies.
[00:14:15.53] Yeah. That's certainly a lot of challenges. So I guess the easiest place to start maybe is to walk you through how we onboard, maybe using our draft class this year as an example. And we try and repeat this in spring training when everybody arrives. So, typically, we take the first day that everybody is in Lakeland and we use that as a screening day and an education day.
[00:14:40.60] So the players arrive and they'll go through their screens with the athletic trainers. With the strength coaches, they'll do their body weight and their skin folds. They'll do their baseline strength testing. So they'll go through all of those screens and assessments. And then, typically, what we'll do is we will introduce them to any technology that they're going to be responsible for.
[00:15:13.52] So, for example, each player has a Blast sensor that goes on their bat. So we'll have a meeting and we'll sit down and show them, hey, this is where the sensor is located. This is what we need you to do in terms of charging it, putting it on your bat. These are the expectations that you'll wear for BP every day. And speaking of the affiliate levels, it gets more challenging as they get towards the higher levels.
[00:15:43.99] The players in double-a or triple-a might not want to wear this. So we have different expectations for different levels. So, if you're in the SCA in Florida, then that's on your bat for every BP. If you're in triple-a, it's obviously a little bit more kind of leeway because those guys are a little bit older and veterans. So we'll introduce them to some of those technologies, particularly early-on the ones that they are responsible for.
[00:16:16.21] And then as typically spring training goes through, and we actually did this a lot more recently in our postseason camp, we had some large educational components. So we'll have a meeting on Rapsodo. This is why we use Rapsodo. These are some of the metrics we look at. This is why it's important that it's out there every time.
[00:16:39.22] This is TrackMan. This is the forced play. This is GymAware and why are we using it. And I think that's a key component because it helps us with compliance. If they know why we're doing it, it's a lot easier for them to get on board.
[00:16:57.25] And also what we try and do is for GymAware, for example, we'll have a TV scrolling with some of the results in the weight room. So they can get a little bit competitive and they'll make sure when they go in there, oh, I haven't done my jump today. But look at so-and-so. They did this and they'll get in there and get it done. But it is one of the challenges we face, I think, in onboarding the players with the technology.
[00:17:21.79] Because when they come into spring training, there's 101 things for them to do. And there's 300 players. It's very difficult to align schedules and get everybody in one place. And so what we've tried to do is do it at these kind of camps at the end of the year in small groups and then provide some of the information specific to them as well. So how we collected blast all year.
[00:17:45.19] Well, this is what we found for you. That's how we're using it. That's why you now have this off season [INAUDIBLE] plan. And I think that helps a lot.
[00:17:55.01] So talk a little bit about staffing. You're managing information. You're managing pieces of technology. But that's not just the analysis and breakdown of the information. That's the charging and setup and all the different areas.
[00:18:08.92] We know that strength and conditioning has grown a lot in professional baseball. Athletic trainings been well established. Performance science is the new kid on the block. Talk a little bit about that collaboration and who you have on your team.
[00:18:26.19] Well, that's an interesting one. So the teams just expanded, thank goodness so, like you mentioned, there's a lot of technology and, quite often, we'll buy a piece of technology because we think it's going to help, but then we don't necessarily provide the resources or the people to run that technology. So prior to this year, I've relied very heavily on the strength coaches and the athletic trainers and our baseball information assistants. So they sit-in our video department to help me with the day-to-day operations because I haven't had a lot of stuff. And so that is why I push the onus on the players a little bit, too.
[00:19:10.35] So for the Blast sensors, for example, they sit in the locker room and they charge in the locker room. And it's their responsibility to pick that charger up or pick that sensor up before they go out in the field and drop it back on. And then one of the BIAs would upload that data every day. Purely because prior to this year it was just me. I don't have time to run through the locker room chasing down sensors and charging them.
[00:19:36.70] So I rely quite heavily on other departments. So, for example, the strength coaches, we got GymAware. We all did the class on how to run it and they just take it and run with it. So they do the day-to-day operations of it. I really just look at the data on the back end and some motivation and make sure that integration is working and then create dashboards and reporting features for them.
[00:20:02.52] Moving forward this year, we're actually getting some new stuff in performance science. So that's very exciting for me. We've just hired a biomechanist. So that person is going to help a lot with the in-game biomechanical data that we're going to get.
[00:20:19.95] We have a performance science coordinator, which is going to be someone that's responsible for organizing and maintaining a lot of the equipment that we have, everything that gets shipped out to the affiliates and whatnot, making sure that's all organized and working. And then we've got two associates or interns as well. So they'll help with the day-to-day operations of just making sure everything's charged, making sure the players have all the equipment that they need, making sure if the coaches want something out there or the coaches want to use the force plates for a session because they want to test out a drill with a certain player, that that's available to them when they need it.
[00:21:02.58] It really speaks to the growth in the game and there's a lot more positions now than 10, 20 years ago when, I mean, some teams only had athletic trainers at that point. And it's expanded so much, nutrition, strength and conditioning, athletic training added roles in that area, and now performance science. With your background coming from Australia, and you've worked in the US and North America now for, at least, a few years, what are some of the similarities or differences that you see in different parts of the world just in the field? And just what are some of the things we're doing really well and maybe some of the things that we could learn from?
[00:21:49.72] So I think one of the big things for me that I probably maybe took for granted in Australia, but I think the US is catching up and you spoke to it a little bit then just with that the added roles in that. So when I was working in our Olympic system, we had what we called service teams around athletes and sports. And in that service team, let's say you're a 100-meter sprinter, you ran track and field. Track and field, or let's say the sprint group within track and field, had this service team that had a nutritionist, a strength coach, a sport scientist, if they required it a physiologist, so long distance, things like that, had a physiologist, a nutritionist, and a mental health provider as well. And I'm probably missing some.
[00:22:43.19] However, I think the concept of each sport and person having this kind of bubble of people around them to help was something that was just ingrained, I think, in the system. And that's how we operated in that team setting. And that works I think really well. And the US or, particularly, I think, baseball is starting to catch up on that, maybe philosophy or area. So now in my role, I work very, very closely with our strength coaches and with our athletic trainers, with our play development coaches.
[00:23:23.13] And so now I think the players that come into the system have a lot more resources available to them. They know that, OK, if I'm in double-a, I now have my full-time strength coach, which they didn't have before. I've got access to a nutritionist. I've got my full-time athletic trainer. Maybe I have a sports science intern there.
[00:23:44.31] Maybe now I have a development coach that's responsible for relaying some of the information from the technology and advance reports and scouting and things. So I think we're building these teams around the athletes and the players a little bit better. That's probably the biggest change I've seen recently.
[00:24:05.79] No, I see that, too. That really interesting. And we even see it in the college side of things with more specialties, especially, I mean, biomechanics sports science, performance science. And something you touched on that I think is very relevant in baseball, but I think is applicable to every sport is we have the research and development side of professional baseball, really diving into the more end game statistics and in what's happening, the moneyball behind the game look at things. And there's such a crossover between the analytics on the performance side and then the end game or the R&D side.
[00:24:51.66] But we also see this with sport coaches. And I on the strength and conditioning side, we have to connect a lot with our head coaches, with our managers, with our sport coaches. Now these roles are starting to, like you mentioned, a developmental coach as a bridge between some of these performance science concepts and what would be the traditional hitting or pitching coach on the staff. Talk a little bit about that growth, just how you've had to navigate those relationships and just connecting with baseball staff. Maybe a little bit different than someone with a strength and conditioning background or athletic training background with crossover knowledge in your discipline.
[00:25:39.58] Yeah. That's been an interesting one for me because, obviously, I came into the role with probably more of a technical kind of background in terms of I studied biomechanics. I have a PhD in biomechanics. And when I started, everyone was, like, I didn't even know what biomechanics is. Let alone sports science is just taking off and then there's all these subdisciplines in biomechanics whereas, if you're a strength coach or an athletic trainer, that's been part of the game for a long time.
[00:26:13.60] So it was kind of challenging for me to come in from that background, I think because I didn't necessarily know a lot about baseball. But, as I said, very early on I think in one of my interview processes, the biomechanics doesn't change. The body still moves how the body moves. The laws of physics are the same. It doesn't matter what sport you're playing. And so I think it just took a little while for me to just sit back and absorb baseball and learn about baseball.
[00:26:46.21] And I had some good people around me to help do that. And it's probably been a little bit more challenging than, say, someone with the strength or athletic training background. But you know what? I think it probably happens across baseball as a whole in terms of we hire a lot of analysts that are very, very smart people. And they work purely just in statistics or whatever it may be, and they've never worked in baseball statistics.
[00:27:19.99] But, at the end of the day, their base knowledge is what requires to work in baseball. And sometimes it's just a little bit of a process to figure out. Well, how do I apply my knowledge to baseball? And that's probably the easiest part. The hardest part is how do I communicate that to the coaches and the players.
[00:27:42.67] And those roles, I think, are changing. Just that we're getting a lot of younger coaches with more diverse experience. So some of them might have background in statistics. Some of them might have a strength training background that have now come into coaching. And I think that's really great for the game that we have this diversity of coaches and people within the game with different backgrounds.
[00:28:09.07] I think that makes it easier to communicate, I think, amongst groups at some stages. But then, obviously, we still have those more traditional roles of the pitching coach and the hitting coach. And you just need to figure out what the best way to communicate with all the different coaches is.
[00:28:30.30] I mean, that's the challenging part about any job, right? Whether you're a strength coach or an athletic trainer or the sports scientist, you've got to communicate with a wide range of stakeholders and everyone's different, too. Figuring out that's the tough part.
[00:28:45.81] Absolutely. And you touched on just the number of skills required to be good at your job in these complex work environments. And I want to ask you, you've seen a lot of coaches. You've worked with a lot of coaches and practitioners. What advice do you give young professionals getting into the field or aspiring towards the field just in terms of how they should approach their early experiences where they're gaining knowledge and really getting their foot in the door?
[00:29:21.53] Yeah. So I guess, in baseball, and this is a terminology that I hadn't necessarily heard before working in baseball and I would just associate it with something else, but it seems to be huge is this concept of feel. I don't know if you've ever come across that, but, yeah, it's huge in baseball. But my take on it would be as a young practitioner coming into the field or if you're starting an internship with the team or something, take the temperature of the room first. So sit back, listen, learn, be open minded, and just absorb it all in before you start to try and make any moves.
[00:30:06.17] I think that's where a lot of people go wrong is that they're excited, they're passionate, which is fantastic. But they come in and it's really hard to undo a bad, first impression, I think. So I think it's really important for those first, whatever it may be, weeks, days, just really absorb and learn a lot and then be tactful. I think that's the challenging thing to know, well, you've got knowledge and you've got a lot of passion and want to put your fingerprint on the program. You've just got to know when's the right place to do that and when's the right time to do that.
[00:30:50.11] And that probably doesn't apply just for young people, young practitioners coming into the field. That applies for everyone. It's a challenging skill to have.
[00:30:57.97] But I think those-- we talk about all the time the soft skills, which are probably the hard skills, to they're probably the most important for me. Being able to communicate, create relationships, listen, those types of things, they're very challenging. But I think in order to be a successful coach, those are very, very important.
[00:31:24.26] No, it's spot on, having feel, having feel for your environment, for the people around you. And coming into a new experience sometimes you don't know everybody. You don't know their backgrounds, their histories, and that can be a good gateway into learning just because you have so many people to get to know.
[00:31:48.68] But as you know their backgrounds and their stories, having feel might mean, you can connect with them on certain things or certain things that maybe you've shared experiences with or you know just about their experience that someone might be sensitive about something or really likes doing something or more inclined to respond a certain way. And those are really those tactical coaching skills that, yeah, we go to events and they are popular topics right now, but I think really the challenge coaches have is employing those skills day-in and day-out, knowing that everybody's got good days, bad days, days where you're overworked, you're tired, the end of the day versus the beginning of the day.
[00:32:43.20] And I think there's a huge human element to it. And especially in a game like you mentioned, every single day over such a long season, the clubhouse environment becomes like the family environment. And there's a lot of positive and some challenges along the way, too. I think it's really great the perspective you shared. To anyone listening in today that wants to get in touch and learn more, what's the best way to do that?
[00:33:17.87] Probably via Twitter. So my Twitter handles just @GeorgiaGiblin. I must admit, I'm not very good at posting on Twitter, but I do like to use Twitter a lot for seeing what's happening in the field, catching up on people's research and things. If they reach out on there, I'll see it.
[00:33:38.45] Awesome. Georgia, thanks for being with us. Thanks for sharing. To all our listeners, we appreciate you tuning in. And thanks to Sorinex Exercise Equipment. We appreciate their support.
[00:33:50.38] Hey, everyone. I'm Dr. Tim Suchomel, the Chair of the NSCA's Sports Science and Performance Technology Special Interest Group, and you just heard an episode of NSCA Coaching Podcast. This show brings about excellent discussion right to the core of the NSCA's mission to bridge the gap between scientific research and application. If you want to learn more about the many advancements in the areas relevant to today's practitioners, subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform. Also joining the discussion in the NSCA's Sports Science and Performance Technology sig on Facebook, go to nsca.com for more information.
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